WHITTIER, California — (Reporting from) The authorities in Whittier have taken into custody a 22-year-old driver who they believe intentionally slammed into a group of law enforcement candidates who were out on a training run in the area.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of attempted murder of peace officers after 25 recruits suffered injuries ranging from minor to critical.
The severity of the injuries sustained by the recruits varied. According to the authorities, additional charges are still being considered at this time, and it is anticipated that the case will be brought before the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office on Friday.
The conduct is considered to have been purposeful after further interviews, videos, and physical evidence were acquired, according to an investigator from the Sheriff’s Department who spoke with Eyewitness News.
Although Sheriff Alex Villanueva had previously stated that the collision resulted from an accident, authorities now claim that his statement was based on preliminary information and that they were still investigating the incident. Additional information gathered led investigators to conclude that the suspect had collided with the group purposefully.
The event occurred in the wee hours of Wednesday morning in the South Whittier neighbourhood close to Trumball Street and Mills Avenue. According to Villanueva, the driver crashed into a group of about 75 recruits who were on the run as part of a training exercise. The class led the run.
The incident caused the 25 trainees to sustain injuries that ranged from traumatic brain injuries to amputations. At the most recent count, one patient was still being kept alive in the hospital by a ventilator. At this time, five recruits are in critical condition, four are being treated for injuries classified as “moderate,” and 16 with minor injuries.
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The video of the incident was recorded from a nearby backyard. It shows a group of recruits running along the side of the road in tight formation while being escorted by two cruisers at the back of the columns.
The sport utility vehicle travels on the left side of the road and does not appear to slow down or swerve as it approaches the group of people jogging straight toward them.
There were indications the driver may have sped up shortly before the collision. According to the sheriff, “several recruits are indicating that they heard the car speeding, and they estimate that it was doing approximately 30 to 40 miles per hour.” You can see how little room for a response that leaves someone else.
It did not appear that there were any obstructions or other vehicles on the road that could have prompted the driver’s behaviour. After hitting the recruits, the Honda SUV continued and collided with a light pole, bringing it crashing to the ground.
“There was a light pole on the east side of the street, and the one thing that was relayed to me was, ‘Thank God for that light pole,’ because the vehicle ultimately hit it and stopped as opposed to possibly hitting more recruits,” said LASD Captain Pat MacDonald, who leads the department’s training bureau. MacDonald is in charge of the training bureau for the department.
According to Villanueva, the recruits come from various departments, some of which are the Bell Police Department, the Glendale Police Department, the Pasadena Police Department, the El Segundo Police Department, and the UCLA Police Department. The remaining individuals were working for the sheriff’s department.
The driver suffered minor injuries, according to the fire department. Villanueva said the driver was given a field sobriety test shortly after the crash and “blew a 0.0.”
The test results do not exclude the possibility of drugs, but Villanueva stated that the incident’s official cause is still unknown. The five severely injured victims were sent to various local hospitals, including the UCI Medical Center, St. Francis Medical Center, LAC+USC Medical Center, and PIH Health Whittier Hospital.
“Fortunately, every class, generally, we have EMTs, and I think this class even had a registered nurse who was a recruit,” Villanueva said. “So they could offer first aid on the spot with the equipment they had.”
“They hurried over there, sprinted to the fire station, and knocked on the door because it was just half a block from where they were. That was a stroke of good luck, so it turned out that things worked out in our favour.”
Robert Luna, the former police chief of Long Beach and the man who will succeed Villanueva as sheriff, has released a statement in which he says, “I am inconsolable and will be praying for the Whittier recruits who were injured this morning when a vehicle hit them as they were crossing the street. In this sad time, I would like to extend my unwavering support to the Sheriff and Police Chiefs from L.A. County agencies, their departments and the families of those who have been hurt.”
At an earlier point in the day on Wednesday, AIR7 HD filmed more than a dozen sheriff’s units and several fire engines and ambulances where the incident occurred. Some injured recruits were observed being treated by first responders in the middle of the street, while others were loaded into ambulances.
A man who lives in the neighbourhood stated that he awoke after hearing the accident and rushed outside immediately afterwards.
The witness, who requested to be identified as Joseph, said, “I come out to see people on the floor… it was very wild.” “I came out to see people on the floor,” “Everyone was kind of in a panic, there was fire engulfing the cables, and the car was smoking… it was a very gory image,” said the witness.
Joseph said he and several other neighbours rushed to help some of the recruits by giving them water and towels. “The car was completely wrecked like the whole front end was done,” he said. “The light pole was on the floor. It was like three or four of us neighbours that came out because this has happened before. We’ve lived here for ten years. It’s happened before, like where a car crashes into a gate, but this was like … no one could ever imagine for this to happen.”
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